Photo illustration by: Anton Mislawsky on unsplash.com
On November 4, 2020, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) and the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies (CRCS) held the online Wednesday forum with the topic “Antisemitism and Anti-Muslim Bigotry: Can We Combat Unique Forms of Hatred Together?” The speaker was Dr. Ari Gordon. He is Director of U.S. Muslim-Jewish Relations for AJC, where he builds partnerships between American Jews and Muslims enabling them to work together on issues of common concern and fostering civil engagement on issues of difference. His work is based on the premise that healthy Muslim-Jewish relations help both communities and strengthens the democratic fabric of the United States. He previously served as Special Advisor for Interreligious Relations and as Assistant Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations for AJC. Gordon is a graduate of Yeshiva University (BA 2005) and Harvard Divinity School (MTS 2010), and completed his PhD in Islamic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where his research focused on sacred geography and interreligious relations in Islam’s formative period. The moderator of this event was Azis Anwar Fachrudin from CRCS.
Gordon began his presentation by referring to research from Dr. Kenneth Stern, Director of the Bard Center for Study of Hate who argues that hate is something that is a part of the human condition and humanity. For Gordon, this is a shocking fact, because Gordon believes that every religion can be bridged because there is humanity and human dignity as common ground. Aligned with that, Gordon argues that every person is loved by their creator, therefore people should love all humans regardless of differences in religious identity. Meanwhile, according to Gordon, there are three different ways hate is expressed. First, through attitude. It is related to what people have in their mind. Generally, the news or information we hear or we read influences us to have hatred toward other groups. Second, ways of rhetoric in which people participate in saying negative things about others. Third, is violent action toward other peoples, Gordon explained that, at first, Dr. Kenneth’s statement really made him upset, but later he understood that everyone has their group identity (religion, ethnicity) in addition to their universal identity as humans. Therefore, celebrating difference is also very important. However, he also realizes that many people cannot celebrate difference and plurality, and these people spread hate.
Moreover, Gordon argues that in the context of America, the problem of interreligious relations is facing three challenges. The first challenge is identity politics and polarization. Gordon quotes Ezra Klein in his book entitled Why We're Polarized in which it is mentioned that the problem of identity politics related to religion and polarization did not begin in the last four years. Rather, the idea of extreme political views can be seen 20-30 years ago. This is because religious and ethnic identity in America is closely related with political identity. People’s political home is always connected with their religious and ethnic identity. People think that they are defenders of their religious and ethnicity identity therefore, this is combined with the political party that brings similar ideas. The political party becomes a political home for people. Unfortunately, the emergence of antisemitism and Islamophobia is closely related with political interests, creating polarization and identity politics. The second problem according to Gordon is a great tendency to say that we are all the same even though in order to fight hatred we need to understand our differences with one another. The third problem is suspicion that exists between Jews and Muslims. Many people only know each other through other people’s lenses or other people’s perspectives, especially related to foreign policy.
Furthermore, according to Gordon, there are two areas of similarities between antisemitism and Islamophobia related to religion and things that related to power and politics. Gordon explained that, one of the earliest form of Islamophobia, came from the era of the crusades. Unfortunately, it turned to religious-based hatred. From this era cam problematic questions and discussions of whether Jesus was a prophet or the Son God and varied notions of heresy based on beliefs of God and the nature of prophecy. Misperceptions exacerbate the religious hatred. Gordon argues that when we learn about others, we can understand that God speaks to many different communities, not only one community. God created diversity. Therefore, diversity is a sacred part of human life.
Nowadays, the hatred based on politics and power leads to mistrust of Jews and Muslims, because of suspicions that the goal of these two groups is to dominate the government and to take over the country. Gordon argues that this suspicion is rooted in the hatred of these two communities. This kind of suspicion can be seen even in the context of COVID-19 pandemic. Gordon finds that in terms of COVID-19, the Jewish community is suspected as a mastermind of the pandemic. These kind of conspiracy theories are very difficult to fight. Gordon sadly said that it is easy to allow the media to shape our perceptions, but actually people who have this hate and suspicion do not know the Jewish or Muslim communities well. Related to Muslim groups, Gordon mentioned that the hatred toward them is mostly connected with the issue of terrorism, especially after the 9/11 tragedy. Furthermore, he said that it is sad to see that there are misinterpretations of religion and expressions of violence. The situation of religious relations became worse because people generalize all Muslims.
Lastly, in order to combat hatred toward the Jewish and Muslim communities, Dr. Gordon explains that these communities should work together. Moreover, it will be more powerful if the Jewish community works to combat hatred for the Muslim community and vice versa. Gordon also argues that difference should not be a source of conflict, and whether there is an inappropriate action or statement from certain people that use certain religious identity, people should be critical and do not generalize that all people from that religion are the same. Criticism that come from hatred is very dangerous. Therefore, in bridging religious relations, there should be an appreciation of plurality, cooperation between religious communities, and critical thinking that is rooted in honor and love for other.